US should es­chew in­ter­ven­tion­ist pol­icy

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Im­me­di­ately af­ter the United States-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, we were told that Wash­ing­ton had got a rare op­por­tu­nity to spread free­dom and democ­racy in the Mid­dle East. The US cited the suc­cess­ful trans­for­ma­tion of post­war Ger­many and Ja­pan to fur­ther its ar­gu­ment. For many, the pic­ture painted by the US was in­deed rosy.

But what peo­ple have seen since for­mer US pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush or­dered the pre­emp­tive strikes is an Iraq trans­formed into a per­pet­ual war zone.

The Iraq Body Count project es­ti­mates that 132,929 civil­ians have been killed since the US-led invasion of Iraq. The to­tal death toll would be 184,000 if com­bat­ants were in­cluded. On Jan 7 alone, 50 peo­ple were killed, in­clud­ing 21 in gun­fire, in Bagh­dad.

Not many peo­ple seemed to un­der­stand when peo­ple such as for­mer Turk­ish prime min­is­ter Ab­dul­lah Gul, who is now the pres­i­dent, warned in 2003 that in­vad­ing Iraq was like open­ing a Pan­dora’s box, some­thing that later US am­bas­sador to Iraq Zal­may Khalilzad agreed with.

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who op­posed the Iraq war as a US se­na­tor, has cho­sen to with­draw Amer­i­can troops from Iraq and Afghanistan af­ter or­der­ing a brief surge in 2010. For­mer US de­fense sec­re­tary Robert Gates says in his mem­oir that Obama “doesn’t be­lieve in his own strat­egy, and doesn’t con­sider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about get­ting out.”

Repub­li­cans may think that Obama looks like be­ing on the re­treat from the wars, but what he has done in the past five years shows that he still be­lieves in mil­i­tary power and in­ter­ven­tion­ism. In the case of Libya, the US and its NATO al­lies vi­o­lated a United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion on no-fly zone to ef­fect a regime change.

Obama pur­sued an in­ter­ven­tion­ist pol­icy in Syria, too, al­though his am­bi­tion was cut short be­cause of strong do­mes­tic op­po­si­tion, es­pe­cially from his own Demo­crat camp. Nev­er­the­less, the US still sup­plies arms and other equip­ment to the Syr­ian rebel forces, fu­el­ing the civil war.

The spillover of the Syr­ian civil war into neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, such as Le­banon, re­flects the fail­ure of the US in­ter­ven­tion­ist pol­icy. In Iraq, the spillover has en­abled al-Qaida-linked in­sur­gents to cap­ture the cities of Fal­lu­jah and Ra­madi in An­bar prov­ince, mak­ing the sit­u­a­tion in the war-torn coun­try more tragic and un­cer­tain than many peo­ple think. And de­spite Obama’s claim that al-Qaida is on the run, the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion is now ac­tive in more coun­tries in the Mid­dle East than in 2003.

Obama wouldn’t have re­al­ized how shock­ing the re­sult of WIN/ Gallup In­ter­na­tional’s End of the Year poll would be when, in his ad­dress to the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly in Septem­ber, he tried to jus­tify the US in­ter­ven­tion­ist pol­icy. The sur­vey of 66,000 peo­ple across 65 coun­tries found that “the US is the great­est threat to peace in the world to­day”. A Pew Center sur­vey cov­er­ing peo­ple in 15 coun­tries in 2006 had pro­duced a sim­i­lar re­sult.

In the WIN/Gallup poll, the high­est num­ber of peo­ple (24 per­cent) said the US was the great­est threat to world peace, and most of them were from the Mid­dle East and North Africa, where US mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion, in­clud­ing drone at­tacks, has been at its worst. Such pub­lic outcry is a re­jec­tion of the US’ Mid­dle East pol­icy, at least as we know it since Bush’s ten­ure in the White House.

In the months and years ahead, the US is likely to sup­ply more heavy weapons, such as Hell­fire mis­siles, Apache he­li­copters and F-16 fighter jets, to the Iraqi gov­ern­ment to help it con­trol the fresh es­ca­la­tion in vi­o­lence in the coun­try and the re­gion.

But the past decade has shown that mil­i­tary power and in­ter­ven­tion can­not re­solve con­flicts or re­dress peo­ple’s griev­ances. It’s time the US for­mu­lated a new Mid­dle East pol­icy that does not rely on th­ese two el­e­ments. The au­thor, based in Wash­ing­ton, is deputy ed­i­tor of China Daily USA. Email: chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­

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